24 May 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Foxglove


Because hairs on their speckled daybeds baffle the little bees,
foxgloves come out to advertise for rich bumbling hummers,
who crawl into their tunnels-of-delight with drunken ease
(see Darwin’s chapters on his foxglove summers)
plunging over heckles caked with sex-appealing stuff
to sip from every hooker its intoxicating liquor
and stop it propagating in a corner with itself.

     from "The Miracle of the Bees and the Foxgloves" by Anne Stevenson

18 May 2017

Simple Herb-Roasted Salmon

To celebrate my Mom's birthday, I took her to "Grow It, Cook It, Eat It" -- a workshop and luncheon at White Flower Farm in Litchfield. We listened to a short lecture on the use of various culinary herbs, then planted our own container kitchen herbs, and ate a delicious, herby vegetarian boxed lunch. Mom definitely enjoyed herself and so we're keeping an eye on the list of events, to see if there's something else we'd like to do together.

Anyway, as it's been a bit cool and rainy since then, the herbs I planted haven't grown much. The container is right by the front door, though, so I see them as I pass to and fro and I itch to use them ... and, well, what harm could a little bit taken here and there do?


Since I already had a salmon fillet in the refrigerator, I decided to roast it with a little of the fresh rosemary and thyme. I could just as easily have used fresh tarragon and lemon zest or fresh marjoram and dijon, but rosemary and thyme is a such a classic combination. It's fabulous with salmon, of course, but I’ve also used it with whitefish like cod and haddock.

This recipe makes two generous servings, but can easily serve three or four by scaling down the portion size. We were rather hungry after gardening so I cut the salmon fillet into larger portions than I usually would. Leftover salmon, should there be any, is very nice cold, on a bed of salad greens.


Simple Herb-Roasted Salmon

Yield: 2

Ingredients

  • 2 8-oz portions boned salmon fillet
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp minced fresh thyme
  • ½ Tbsp olive oil
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • ⅛ tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Brush a pie plate or baking dish with olive oil.
  3. Pat the salmon dry with a paper towel and place on the pie plate. If your salmon portions have a thin end, fold that under for more even cooking.
  4. Top with ingredients.
  5. Bake salmon, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily and has reached 145°F.

17 May 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Sweet Violets

The sweet violets have successfully seeded themselves through the garden and lawn ... this makes me very, very happy. Who needs grass when you can have violets?

03 May 2017

01 May 2017

American War


I finished American War well over a week ago now, but I still struggle to know what to say about it. It’s bleak and grim and dark. Full of rogue weaponized drones, catastrophic weather, (villainous) governments, and freedom fighters (terrorists). And yet there are small moments of beauty and humor amidst all the horror.

Ultimately, American War is a disquieting, uncomfortable novel. One of those novels the word “unputdownable” can honestly be applied to. Which doesn’t make this novel flawless -- there are, for example, points where the narrative is frustratingly meandering -- but it is too compelling a story for me to care too much about structural flaws.

El Akkad incorporates excerpts from news articles, memoirs, and official documents to fill out the story and provide context for Sarat's experiences -- I tend to enjoy fiction which employs that kind of epistolary conceit, so I ate those pages up and wanted more, because there is still so much of Sarat’s world I want to know (yet am afraid to know, because These Times Are Too Much Like Fiction).

American War takes place during the uneasy detente occurring after the catastrophic second American civil war. Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia have formed their own government (The Free Southern State), with North Carolina and Tennessee rather friendly to it, and South Carolina a quarantined zone controlled by the North. The Free Southern State is not well regarded by it's populace and there are a myriad of rebel factions clamoring for power within it. The South is gutted. Scarred. Angry. Prone to (self)destruction.

Growing up in this mess, first in mostly-drowned Louisiana and later in a displaced persons camp in Mississippi, is Sarat Chestnut. Curious, defiant, ignorant, and unfeminine (nice to see contemporary gender norms still hold sway), Sarat is eventually befriended by a mysterious, smooth-talking, and educated man who spoon feeds her the Story of the South -- a tasty, untanglable blend of fact and fiction that sets her on a dark path.

And I can’t say more because Spoilers. Just go yourself a copy of American War.



American War written by Omar El Akkad & read by Dion Graham (Random House Audio, 2017)

26 April 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Glory-of-the-snow

Chionodoxa, or glory-of-the-snow, in bloom. A happy little burst of blue.

24 April 2017

Favorite Poems & Poets: Joy Harjo

When I was an undergrad, I was lucky enough to hear Joy Harjo speak at my college. I was so moved by her words and use of language that I immediately went out and bought three of her poetry collections. Her poems are beautiful yet cryptic and, reading them, I always feel I am skimming the bare surface of meaning.

Today I'm sharing excerpts from two poems. The first is "The Woman Hanging From The Thirteenth Floor Window," a poem from She Had Some Horses. It's about a woman contemplating her life -- should she break loose and fall or climb back up and reclaim herself? The second is "Perhaps the World Ends Here," from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky. It's, ostensibly, a poem about a kitchen table but is also a big ol' metaphor for life.
"The Woman Hanging From The Thirteenth Floor Window"

She is the woman hanging from the 13th floor
window. Her hands are pressed white against the
concrete moulding of the tenement building. She
hangs from the 13th floor window in east Chicago,
with a swirl of birds over her head. They could
be a halo, or a storm of glass waiting to crush her.

She thinks she will be set free.
Please click here to read the rest of the poem.
"Perhaps the World Ends Here"

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
My extract doesn’t start at the poem's beginning nor does it end at the poem's end. Click here to read it in full.

And here's a (longish) video of Joy Harjo talking at the 2013 Chicago Humanities Festival about her family and other things:

20 April 2017

Improv Cooking Challenge: Banana & Coconut

It's that time again! The monthly "Improv Cooking Challenge"! April's focus ingredients were banana and coconut. While my peers have created impressive sweet and savory dishes, I have kept it simple and made fancy ... toast. (Fancy toast is a totally legitimate thing, you know. There are even whole cookbooks dedicated to it. I'm just being trendy. Right?)


This toast makes sweet, super-quick, and breakfast that will keep you going through the morning. It's important to use a well-toasted thick, hearty bread -- I used Silver Hills' high-fiber Sprouted Power Mack's Flax -- or it will be overwhelmed by the toppings and flop about when you try to pick it up. I mean ... I guess you could eat the toast with a knife and fork, but that kind-of defeats the purpose of toast, yes?



Fancy Toast

Yield: 1 or 2, depending on hunger

Ingredients

  • 2 slices hearty whole-grain bread, toasted as you like
  • 4 Tbsp soft, spreadable goat cheese [Vermont Creamery]
  • ½ half peeled banana, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp blueberries
  • 2 Tbsp unsweetened flaked coconut [Bob's Red Mill]
  • Honey, as needed
  • Cinnamon, as needed

Instructions

  • Spread toast with goat cheese.
  • Top with banana, blueberries, and coconut.
  • Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with cinnamon as desired.
  • Eat.

If you don't like goat cheese, ricotta or farmer's cheese would also work. And, obviously, pretty much any combination of fruits would be tasty!

For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.





19 April 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Hyacinths

Purple hyacinths are almost ready to flower!

17 April 2017

Easy Easter Lamb


It was my turn to host Easter and, of course, I made lamb. Usually, I roast a boneless or semi-boneless leg, but this year I wanted to be a little fancy and roasted three racks of lamb. In total, I roasted nearly 5 lb of lamb which was, even by my own overly-hospitable standards, a bit much for four adults (even with leftovers factored in). Next time, only two racks! Or more people at the table?


Greek Rack of Lamb

Yield: 4, very generously

Ingredients

  • 3 racks of lamb (approximately 1½ lbs apiece)
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 Tbsp Greek seasoning blend [Penzeys]
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil

Instructions

  • About an hour before cooking, place lamb on a large foil-lined baking tray and let it come to room temperature in a cool place.
  • Preheat oven to 375°.
  • In small bowl, combine the lemon zest, Greek seasoning, garlic, and oil. Rub over lamb.
  • Bake 30-40 minutes or until meat reaches desired doneness (imho, that's 160° for medium).
  • Let stand 5 minutes before carving. (To carve, cut from the meaty end toward the bone).


The lamb chops went over really well and I will definitely roast more racks in the future ... although not as many at once.

15 April 2017

Anxious Days

Honestly, after the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union fragmented into individual nation states, I never really thought about nuclear war again. And yet here I am worrying about goddamn thermonuclear apocalypse.

As well as healthcare, the environment, immigration, and every other damn thing you can think to worry about in this Age of Orange.

For the past decade or so, every time we humans would do something shitty, I would remind myself of all the good things that were also happening, but now I don't know that there's enough good to balance all the bat shit human wickedness I see. Too many people seem hellbent on unstitching civilization and destroying the planet for whatever profit or advantage can be obtained by that regardless of the cost to others (indeed, the cost to others may be a definite bonus).

I can barely explain what's happening to myself -- can't imagine what it would be like explaining it to children. And, oh, I have been fighting. But what is that fighting worth? What is it accomplishing? 2018 feels too dangerously far in the future to be worth pinning hopes on.

Like a proper white lady, I having been doing yoga and meditation to try to find a spot of calm. But the mantra I frequently whisper to myself is not "hope" or "love" or whatever other optimistic nonsense word the yoga instructor suggests we focus our practice on. It is "doom." Breathe in, "ohmygodohmygodohmygod." Breathe out, "dooooooooom."

13 April 2017

Lemon & Dill Baked Tilapia

I'm down to cooking one supper for the two of us during the work week, because -- between my new job, gym, yoga, poker, and other important things -- our weekday schedules don't overlap at suppertime. And when I am around to cook, I find I want to make something fast, easy, and mindless.


Essentially, we eat a lot of variations on this dish. It works with pretty much any white fish as well as salmon and the fresh dill can easily be replaced with equivalent amounts of dry herbs or seasoning blends. The only things that are consistent from version to version are oven temperature, lemon, olive oil, and garlic.


Lemon & Dill Tilapia

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 4 tilapia fillets
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp minced fresh dill
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • Brush a baking dish with a little olive oil or spritz with cooking spray.
  • Blot fillets dry with a paper towel and arrange fillets in dish.
  • Mix remaining ingredients in a bowl and spread over fillets.
  • Bake fillets uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until fish flakes easily and has reached 145°F.



12 April 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Perky Purple Pansies

"I send thee pansies while the year is young,
Yellow as sunshine, purple as the night."
~ Sarah Dowdney, Pansies

11 April 2017

Favorite Poems & Poets: Judy Grahn

I discovered Judy Grahn waaaay back when I was a 90s-era college freshman, lurking in the library stacks, looking for something I couldn't begin to articulate. Like many people of that age and time, I was full of unfamiliar stirrings and oh-so-many FEELS but had no cultural, religious, or emotional frame to hang them on.


I was a bookish girl, you know. All my life, whenever I couldn't find the words to explain the world, books were there to help me. And I quite legitimately expected books would help me with the Big Queer Feels.

So I stumbled my way through reams of poetry and feminist essays until I found a version of myself and the world that felt "true." And Judy Grahn was a big part of that. First with her Another Mother Tongue and then, later, with her poetry.

In hindsight, it is clear I sometimes had no real understanding of what I read, but the words she chose ... the righteous tone of her arguments ... made me feel like I was part of something magnificent. That my feelings had a natural place in the universe and that the universe was not the narrow construct I feared it was.

So here's Ani Difranco (also a huge part of my coming to terms with all the Big Queer Feels) reading Grahn's "Detroit Annie, Hitchhiking" from The Work of a Common Woman. Happy National fucking Poetry Month, people.

10 April 2017

Wintersong


“The last night of the year," Constanze said. "Now the days of winter begin and the Goblin King rides abroad, searching for his bride.”

Goblins, changelings, magic, riddles, ill-advised and desperate bargains -- Wintersong has them all. Set in 1800s provincial Bavaria, the novel is reads like lushly written homage to “Goblin Market” and “Der Erlkönig.” I think it’s probably a book that would appeal to Labyrinth lovers, although I found it easiest to enjoy Wintersong when I had deliberately cleared Sarah and Jareth from my mind. As far as world-building goes, Jae-Jones’s universe felt richly detailed and real – it was perfectly easy (up to a point) to become Liesl, to believe I was in rural Bavaria, to smell and taste the forbidden fruits, to feel the cold of winter and the dark fantasy of the Underworld .

So world-building, writing, and premise really appealed to me and I enjoyed those facets of the Wintersong. But … there was still too much that put me off, that kept me from properly enjoying the book, and makes me reticent to read the sequel.

Maybe I’m just a cranky old woman, but I find it increasingly difficult to enjoy novels larded with the nonsense that is on-again-off-again romance. You have relationship problems? You figure out, together, how to fix them or you go your separate, but ultimately happier, ways. And sex as a fix for whatever you think is broken within you? Just … no. I have no time for magical healing penises (or vaginas, for that matter).

Also, that ending! How did the world not end? What about the changeling? Wasn’t he supposed to wane and die if too long from the Underworld? And the whole, abrupt Beethoven/Immortal Beloved tie-in ... I just don’t understand where that was going.

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones (St. Martin's Griffin, 2017)

05 April 2017

Wordless Wednesdays: Wee Purple Survivors

These little purple dudes don't care about snow, sleet, hail, or rain. They're just waiting for one good blast of sun.

03 April 2017

Paris for One & Other Stories


Paris for One and Other Stories is all about women and their romantic relationships. My favorite of the nine stories was the novella “Paris for One.” Nell, an unadventurous English woman, plans her first trip to Paris with her boyfriend ... who bails on her via text, because he is a selfish boy. Unadventurous Nell has all sorts of experiences in Paris, comes out of her shell a bit, and (inevitably) meets a nice French man who is worthy of her. It was a sweet, gently humorous story with, maybe, not a lot of character development or depth, but good fun none-the-less.

This story collection reminded me strongly of the Maeve Binchy and Marion Keyes novels I used to gobble up while traveling -- all thoroughly sweet and predictable tales. Sometimes with a little bit of a sting – whiffs of adultery, generational disharmony, etc -- but they all dealt lightly with such topics and ended pleasantly enough.

Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes (Pamela Dorman Books, 2016)

29 March 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Eager Daffodil

"Daffodils, / That come before the swallow dares, and take / The winds of March with beauty" ~ Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale

18 March 2017

Oven-Baked Vegetable Quesadillas

Veggie quesadillas are a great way to use up whatever iffy vegetables you have on hand! As long as you have tortillas, cheese, and spices then the rest comes together pretty easily. Because I'm both lazy and impatient, I like to bake my quesadillas on a sheet pan (rather than one at a time in a skillet on the stove) so they're all ready to eat at the same time!

I used a mix of leftover veggie tray produce in these quesadillas -- red and green bell peppers, summer squash, zucchini, and mushrooms -- but any vegetables you like would work well. For example, when corn is in season, I've made these with leftover roasted corn on the cob, zucchini, onions, and black beans.


Because healthy eating is supposed to be the name of the game, I used Mission Carb Balance tortillas which have 19 grams of fiber per tortilla, but still taste exactly like regular flour tortillas. Some day, I'll get The Husband to eat multigrain tortillas, but for right now ... needs must.

Anyway, these quesadillas go together in a flash. The most time-consuming part is pre-cooking the vegetables and you could probably skip that if you prefer more crunch!


Just stir-fry the vegetables over high heat in a nonstick skillet with a splash of low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth until the mushrooms brown and the peppers start to blister. Then remove from heat and season with whatever Mexican or Southwestern seasoning blend you have on hand (I used Penzey's salt-free Arizona Dreaming).

Then spritz one side of two tortillas with cooking spray (or brush them with a little olive oil). Place lubricated side down on an ungreased baking sheet. Top each tortilla with the vegetables.


Add the tomatoes. I used a 10 oz can of Aldi's Casa Mamita house brand diced tomatoes with green chilies, because they're pleasantly zippy and much more of a petite cut, making them perfect for dishes where you want the tomato to blend in. I saved the remainder of the can to use later in with week in taco pizza.


And now for the delicious cheeses! I used part of a bag of Cabot's Mexican shredded cheese blend leftover from who-knows-when, but any shredded cheese you like is good. While we tend to have more cheddar than anything else on hand, I can tell you Colby-Jack and Pepper Jack work well.


Top everything with another tortilla. Spritz that tortilla with cooking spray and then pop the pan in the 450°F oven for 10 minutes or until the quesadillas look golden brown on top and a little dark around the edges.

And then gobble down the hot, cheesy, messiness and go shovel some more &#%!@?! snow.


Oven-Baked Vegetable Quesadillas

Yield: 2

Ingredients

  • 8 oz sliced assorted chopped peppers and other vegetables
  • 1 tbsp fat-free low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tsp salt-free Mexican or Southwestern seasoning blend
  • 4 8-inch flour tortillas
  • ½ cup well-drained canned diced tomatoes with green chilies
  • 4 oz shredded Mexican cheese blend

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Stir-fry vegetables in a nonstick skillet with broth over high heat until the vegetables look blistered and mushrooms are brow. Remove from heat and season.
  3. Spritz one side of two tortillas with cooking spray. Place spritzed side down on an ungreased baking sheet.
  4. Top each tortilla with vegetables, tomatoes, and cheese.
  5. Cover with remaining tortillas and spritz tops with cooking spray.
  6. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes or until tortillas are golden brown.
  7. Cut into wedges. Serve with guacamole, if desired.

16 March 2017

Improv Cooking Challenge: Potatoes & Chives

I was really excited about March's Improv Cooking Challenge ingredients -- potatoes and chives -- because we'd been having such a mild winter that the chive plants in my sheltered back bed never properly died back and I've had fresh chives on hand all winter! Or ... most of the winter. As soon as I made this potato salad, dark clouds massed on the horizon and BLAM! a foot of snow buried everything. Happily, chive plants are hardy as weeds and I'll be knee-deep in chives in another month or so.

This salad would look really attractive garnished with chive blossoms, but SNOW ...

While Potato salad isn't particularly exciting or adventurous, it is one of my favorite foods and I love to tinker with it, trying new variations of dressings, etc. With this salad, I've tossed the hot potatoes with a mixture of oil, vinegar, and mustard -- the potatoes absorb the mixture as it cools and, I feel, the becomes much more flavorful this way. If you are part of the no-mayonnaise-in-my-potato-salad brigade, you could easily omit the mayo ... although you would be missing out on the marvelous combination that is potato and mayonnaise and I would judge you. I used ready-made garlic mayonnaise in this recipe, but you could make your own by combining crushed garlic or garlic paste with mayonnaise until it tasted garlicky enough for you.

Yes, the mayonnaise was expired. Yes, I took it back to the shopped for an unexpired one.

Tangy Potato & Chive Salad

Yield: 6

Ingredients

  • 1½ lbs red potatoes, halved or quartered into bite-size pieces
  • 4 scallions
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp zippy yellow mustard
  • ¾ cup garlic mayonnaise
  • 3 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Cook the potatoes in boiling water for about 10 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife.
  2. While potatoes cook, chop all the white and light green parts of the scallions and set aside.
  3. Whisk the oil, vinegar, and mustard together and set aside.
  4. Drain the potatoes. While the potatoes are still hot and steamy, gently toss them with the mustard mixture and the scallions. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  5. Gently fold in the mayonaisse and chives. Chill the salad until ready to serve.
  6. When ready to serve, season with salt and pepper and, if desired, garnish with additional chives and scallions.

Mmm ... potatoes! One of nature's perfect foods.

For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.





13 March 2017

Frogkisser!


Princess Anya's wicked stepstepfather, the Duke, is a powerful sorcerer set on ruling the tiny kingdom of Trallonia ... and that means finding a way to be rid of obstacles like Anya and her distractible older sister, Morven. It also means turning any of the Princesses likely allies -- like Morven's suitors -- into frogs.

Anya's simple promise to turn recently frogged Denholm back into a prince -- Morven isn't in love with him anymore and isn't going to kiss a frog, regardless -- quickly evolves into an epic Quest. Anya will collect the ingredients for a Transmogrification Reversal Lip Balm, save her sister (and herself) from the Duke's machinations, right ancient wrongs, and maybe-sorta make the world a better place.

Frogkisser! is a delightful read that manages to be both irreverent and meaningful at the same time. Many classic fairytale tropes are subverted, nonwhite female characters are integral, and Anya slowly grows into a thoroughly satisfying hero. If you like Diana Wynne Jones or Terry Pratchett, I think you'll enjoy Frogkisser!

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix (Scholastic, 2017)

10 March 2017

Sweet & Spicy Slow Cooker Party Meatballs

To celebrate recently changing jobs (still a librarian, but now happier and better paid) and salute the coworkers (now friends) who have put up with me for ten years, I threw a party. And what's a goodbye party without slow cooker meatballs? I wouldn't know ... I made meatballs.

These bite-size balls of sweet, fiery savoriness are based on MyRecipes' "Chipotle-Barbecue Meatballs." I used more adobo than the original recipe called for and less barbecue sauce and preserves, because I was concerned the meatballs would be too sweet, otherwise. I also added garlic and garnished the finished dish with chopped scallions, because every savory dish needs alliums!


These meatballs are definitely spicy! And it's a sneaky heat, too. Pop one in your mouth and you'll be thinking "Nice texture. A little sweet. Ohh, garlic" chewchewchew and then there's a bloom of heat at the back of your throat that is surprising, but not painful. And you'll try another to see if it has the safe effect. And another.

Or, at least, that's what my guests did! I'm really glad I made two bags, because there wasn't much leftover.


Sweet & Spicy Slow Cooker Party Meatballs

Yield: MANY

Ingredients

  • 16 barbecue sauce [Stubb's "Sweet Heat"]
  • 6 oz cherry preserves [Bonne Maman]
  • 3 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, undrained
  • 2 tablespoons adobo sauce from chipotle can
  • 1 Tbsp dehydrated minced garlic [McCormick]
  • 2 (32-oz.) packages frozen bite-size meatballs [Trader Joe's]
  • 3 scallions, green parts only, sliced thinly

Instructions

  1. Brush slow cooker insert with olive oil or spritz with cooking spray. Add meatballs to bottom of insert.
  2. Combine barbecue sauce, chipotle peppers, and adobo in the bowl of a small food processor or blender and process until smooth. Add garlic to sauce, pour over meatballs.
  3. Cover and cok on Low for 6 hrs, stirring twice. Set to Warm and serve when desired straight from the pot, sprinkled with sliced scallions. The sauce will thicken as it sits, so give it a stir every once in a while to redistribute it through the pot.